September 2010

Blast from My Pre-MLBlogs.com Past

 
 

On this day off of all things Tampa Bay Rays Baseball, I decided to do some scavenging of some of my older boxes filled with books on baseball or artifacts from the early years of the Rays. The first thing I come upon is a 1999 D-Rays Opening Day Program ( actually 5 of them) and a signed copy of the manuscript to my all time favorite comedy movie “Bull Durham“.

It was like I was opening my own time capsule hidden within this dank storage unit and finding treasure after treasure that I had long forgotten I even had. Piled into these red storage crates were years of bobblehead experiences both with names from now, and yesterday, including a unusual Drew Carey figurine I traded a Slider (The Indians mascot) bobblehead I gathered entering the stadium, while the young lad got a Carey bobble and seemed unimpressed by it. So to make someone besides myself smile that day, I anxiously traded with the young boy with both of us getting the deal of a lifetime in our own minds.

Pondering and squeezing into the tiny space of this unit I gazed upon a crate marked “books and paper memorabilia” that housed it own secrets and pleasant surprises. With this pile of dusty book covers and worn page ends I found something I had forgotten a long time ago existed in my collection. It was a copied article I wrote for MLB.com way back in September 17,2002 as a “Fan on Base” entitled “Thank you right back, MLB“.

It was my first published writing of any type on the Internet, and was the secondary seed to why I write even today. So, on this day of rest for the Rays lads while they await their Friday night contest in Toronto, I am going to reproduce this posting that was submitted way before the creation of MLBlogs.com, and you can judge for yourself just how far my writing has either advanced or is evolving every post.


Funny, I sit in my usual chair in the Rightfield section and it feels like the first game of the season.

Fans around me were whispering about the impending strike and about missing any or all of the games. I just sat there and watched a team maturing on the field. I am of the opinion that a true fan does not make posters, throw objects or harass the players or other teams’ fans. We are all lifetime members of a unique fraternity/sorority. We are baseball fans.

Baseball games are a creative and fun release for me from stress and the pressures of life. I know the players consider it a “job”, but I would consider it an honor and an extended childhood dream to play on that turf. Funny, I still get a thrill from fielding Batting Practice from the (Checkers) “café” at Tropicana Field.

The impending strike has no evil thoughts or effect on me. I would have missed the games, but I know that each side was trying to
protect the future generations. I knew whatever became of the meetings, the “kid” in all of the players’ and owners would emerge in the end.

Baseball is a business today, but you also saw the faces and comments with hidden meanings to suggest a positive end to the talks. As a true fan, I planned to be there for the first game after the settlement, cheering as loud as the first game in franchise history. I was thinking of walking down and shaking the hands of all of the (Rays) Bullpen guys. I would have missed them all. I waited 20 years for (MLB) baseball in my hometown, and if the strike would have had any negative turn, then I still would have been there on the “first day” after any stoppage.

I admit that I am a kid at the ballpark. I enjoy the banter with the players, and the photos, autographs and other things during, after and between the games. I am a former pro player, but of another “ball” sport, and I enjoy the present day ballplayer in Tampa Bay. They might be modern warriors, but they are also a prototype of the old-school players. Most do not play for millions, but for pride and team.

I have heard such recent comments as “Just glad to be here” and ” What is better than getting paid to play a game we used to play for free Pepsi from the coaches?” I really enjoy throwing jeers at the visiting players. Like the time the Yankees Paul O’Neil heard “cup check” from most of the people in Section 138 in Rightfield at the Trop. But the most memorable moment was at a recent game. The Indians’ Right fielder , Michael Tucker, was laughing and smirking under that serious veneer. We love the game, and are not afraid to yell at times.

Forget the notion that these guys are spoiled millionaires. The best baseball to me is played at the Trop. Not because of talent, money or even hustle. It is because these (Rays) players still have the hunger, the intense desire to play as they did when they were 10-year olds in the dust bowls of America. I have to end this story now–got a few neighborhood kids who need me to throw some pitches to them.

Unlike (former Ray) Jimmy Morris, I only throw 80-ish on a windy day. But I also sit on that mound dreaming and loving the thought that baseball is safe for these kids to watch for years to come.

It was good to see baseball go on. I would have missed the kid-like fans and friends I have met during America’s greatest game.

Got to admit, reading that brought back a flood of emotion and memories of the time with the Rays since Mar 31,1998, to last night’s contest. I still fancy it to any other sport out there, and finally have come to peace with the idea that even if baseball is a business, it is also a pure form of the stride of all of us to compete daily at a high level no matter what our skills are, or our opinions.

 

To me, baseball has become the great equalizer where a millionaire can sit next to a guy who dig ditches for the City and both will cheer, clap and high-five after a great play. No social nuances or speculations, just great kid-like fascination and wonder of seeing the game played at its highest level with more than few smiles beckoning from ear-to-ear.

Price is simply “Money”

 
 
Getty Images

I am not sure why it is that in baseball, everyone seems to have to have a nickname. For some ungodly reason they have to have a secondary name plastered to them to solidify their inner baseball being, plus the fact that inside jokes tend to run the gambit here. They can be as simple as a name play on someone’s name, or could be a direct correlation to an event within the sanctum of the baseball society, but everyone has to have that ” alter ego” to play the game.

On the Tampa Bay Rays there is the names like “Big Game” (Shields) or “Zorilla” (Zobrist) and the always cool and sophisticated “‘Los”. I mean every player that is on the Rays roster has some sort of moniker pushed onto them by either the fans, media or even team mate, and eventually it begins to stick and they respond when you callout these names to them. Some take some hard work into the background stories like “Bossman Junior“( Upton) or even “Dirtbag” (Longoria), but after the long search and research about these names, you see a level of respect and admiration thrust upon the names and the players you might not initially thought would be possible.

But then you get the clever ones who partake in a more intellectual attempt at procuring their names to maybe use a dual advantage like Wade Davis acquiring the number 40 jersey so you could use his initials and his jersey number to thrust up a kinship to America’s #1 lubricant ( WD-40). Then for some odd reason names also tend to evolve during a player’s career and get adapted to define a moment or action that characteristic to that player like the “Spitting Cobra” for the persistent spitting of resin from Rays starter Matt Garza’s mouth.

But then there is the opposite effect of some of the shy members of the team that get adopted their natural state of origin like the “Tall Texan” (Niemann). Even the staff have their own nicknames and coy little turn of phrase namesakes like “Sugarbear” (Ramos), the “Professor” (Maddon) or even “The Enforcer” (Cursi). But that is what you expect from a group of people who are around each other for 162 games a year, plus Spring Training, and hopefully a month of great postseason action.

But there is one member of the Rays who has gotten a name attached to them that I do not totally agree with at all. For some reason the media has pushed the “King” label onto this player when a more apt name can be devised and should be attached to his monetary persona. I really think attaching “King” to the front of Rays pitcher David Price’s name is a bit too…simple. And for the sake of argument, Seattle hurler Felix Hernandez had it first, and fit’s the crown more right now.

 

With that in mind, then it is time to furnish Price with a more honorable moniker that fans, media and even his team mates can attached to his game persona and we all begin the long task of making sure it stays firmly on his presence for a long, long time. Most people know about Price’s obsession with the South East Asia delicacy known as Pho`. The body and broth of this amazing soup dish can be complex but simple with the addition or subtraction of its numerous ingredients. I know I heard a long oratory once where Price commented on a Pho` he got while the Rays were in Seattle, and it immediately pushed me towards a Chef and one of his common phrases as the perfect name for Price.


Guy Fieri is the host of the Food Network shows “Guy’s Big Bite“, and the acclaimed series “Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives” , which I consider one of the best food shows ever to be created…bar none. With that in mind, I think we need to dissect the “King” that so many have attached to Price’s baseball persona and infuse another name that also speaks to one of Fieri’s most astounding phrases. It is a phrase that has taken in by the ethnic disparity of America and has been embraced and nurtured to become a part of our culture all with five little letters.

The Fieri Flavortown dictionary defines this special word as being ” the top, providing a cranial obsessive formulation of superlatives and taste sensations that evoke a phrase of mass ingestion” . This phrase has been known to apply to food, an activity and even a sensual nature comparable to the human form. It is perfect the be reflected as a new Price nickname. And above all, it has a similar correlation to Price’s name that will only grow huge as his career evolves from today.

Ladies and gentleman, boy and girls, I give you my new nickname for the southpaw who has taken us to new pitching heights within the Rays Republic and also strikes a chord with our heartstrings. My new choice for a nickname for man who could possibly be in the running for the 2010 Cy Young Award is…..(drum line music)…..”Money“.

And if you really about it, ever since Price was selected as the First Pick of the 2008 MLB Draft, he has been banking and accumulating interest from fans, players and even small baseball fans into producing a windfall of pitching and inspirational moments. Price has simply been “Money” since the moment he put on a Rays uniform. How easy could this new nickname be adapted to Price as a further illustration to the total effect and admiration and respect the baseball community has for this budding left-handed star.


Nicknames can be a true defining moment into a person’s personality and character. Just because Charlie Brown had a friend named “Pigpen” doesn’t mean he was defined by his surrounding cloud of filth and dirt. He also played a pretty mean third base on Brown’s baseball team. Some nicknames can be attached to a person to denote a negative or subversive memory in our daily consciousness pertaining to that individual.

But for some reason, “Money” just seem to perfectly fir the persona and the perception of Price to me. Money grows in value, has times of influx and change, but always ends up coming out on top. David “Money” Price….A name the entire Rays Republic can bank on to get the Rays through another postseason market of fluxuating circumstances with huge dividends.

Ye Tale is Spun from the Yarn of Yawley

 


 

It has all the makings of a dramatic made-for-Television movie. The type of highly emotional and civic minded chest thumping cinematic presentation that always seems to surface just as the Major League Baseball begins to close down its regular season. Then like a flash of lightning, this same media power promotes their post season edition of grandeur on the grass with their localized Northern kinfolk firmly established at the forefront edge of post season glory. The type of urban metropolis superiority cinematic piece that pieced together in haste as the two Northern giants begin to assemble their courageous troops for playoff supremacy.


But there is a problem with that usual Northern homage to greatness in 2010. The usual two titans of the Northeast are not the centerpieces of this year’s playoff drama, but their distant cousin, that poor Southern band of souls are again trying to rob their post seasonal exclusive party by winning when they should be cowering in the corner paying homage to their Northern big brothers. Again these bonded cousins from another Mother have again risen (like the South) to again fluster and bewitch the very media networks that pray and plea each April that metro giants like Boston and New York can survive into late October.

In their last three contests, the younger brothers to the South have fallen upon dark moments, besieged by the uncharacteristic dismantling of their hurlers galore to give their Northern cousins located in the town of the Beans, a glimpse at redemption and a viable reason to again bestow hope amongst the discarded hot dog wrappers and beer cups, that an epic collapse might befallen their Southern cousins and again put fate within their grasp.

Now there is a glimmer of faith and reprisal that if they can corral and tame their Southern cousin in the last two meetings between the two this week, the boys from Beantown can again be in the thick of the hunt and pounce upon and beyond their Southern brethren to again seek their baseball destiny. And with the unevenly successful outing of their southpaw du Jour, and even with the plethora of ducks on the pond that night, they used the winds and the long deep ball to again thrust their Southern cousins into the barrels of molasses and send them to bed dreaming of disaster instead of delight.

Right now the awakening soul of this proud city is again thumping their chest and proving the encouraging wordage and crowd carnage needed to bring hope, faith and last gasps of rejoice to those who gaze upon the last ditch effort of hope for this great Red Sox Nation. Patrons who threw off their oxygen masks after the final ground out and proclaimed their team fully back in high spirits and seeking another combustible shot of redemption tonight.

As their Southern cousins recoiled and reexamined their own plan of attack of sending their own southpaw to the mound tonight to crush the rebellion and ease the noise, the patrons of this borough of the baked bean rejoiced and celebrated upon Yawley Way late into the morning seeing that their forth nights are not pitch black and darkened, but that a faint shimmer of pale light has beamed upon the every changing darkness because of the burly bats of their might Red Sox crew. For the once blind patrons of the Red Sox have now seen the dim flashes of a percentage of a chance, and grasp that morsel as if it was Russian caviar.

 

Even though the hard fought road to the playoffs has been reopened by the defeat of the Southern cousins, the Red Sox must again counter again and again in two more contests before they can fully proclaim their right to journey towards a glimpse of a final playoff destination. For now the curtain has been opened, and the bean town faithful have seen the inner workings of the magician and know what it will take to pounce upon and beyond this young Southern cousin’s own journey.


Once again the Southern cousins have found themselves sandwiched between the irritable giants with little chance of extra breathing room on either side of them. Any extended slip, unexpected slide backwards will surely evoke more celebration and anxious moments for either of their Northern kinfolk. The proud Southern brethren have to reconstruct their modus operandi and commit again to what got them to this point in their season, or surrender to the increasing sound of sox upon the ground coming closer and closer.

Four weeks, 28 days is the length of time they need to fend off and survive within the two titans grip. 26 games worth of sweat, strains and moral imperative has to be weighed, measured and precisely calculated before the final tally is seen on October 4th‘s eve.

The impending contests of these three amigos separated by their will, luck and courage will battle to the last out, all hoping that when the dust finally settles, they are firmly situated in a seat towards their playoff destiny. Many have begun to count out the second Northern brother, because injuries has ravished their roster and depleted their confidence. But a new generation of Beantown bombers have resurfaced and shown that this is far from over, far from concluded. Even now.

 

Rays do not Need this Type of “Quall-ity”

  

 

When the Tampa Bay Rays first acquired Chad Qualls from the Arizona Diamondbacks prior to the end of the Trade Deadline, I thought a change of scenery might be just the thing for him. You know the drill, a change of venue can bring about a change in attitude and also confidence. Plus Qualls was coming to a team that boasted a former team mate (Dan Wheeler) and a Pitching Coach (Jim Hickey) back from when Qualls used to be a sub 3.50 ERA machine. But for some reason know, I am thinking we got a dose of quantity over quality so far.


Sure it was great for Qualls to exit stage right in a hurry from the Diamondbacks, especially considering Qualls had posted a 8.29 ERA over his 43 appearances and only produced 12 saves in 16 opportunities. But the Rays did not bring Qualls here to be an 8th inning set-up man, they brought him here to establish a bit of groundball dominance on a team whose defense wins them games.

As I mentioned before, Qualls accumulated his high ERA (8.29) in only 38 total innings with the Diamondbacks while also giving up a grand total of 61 hits,41 runs and 5 Homers during his stay in the hot desert Sun. I was curious to see if Qualls had actually gotten better since his departure from the Diamondbacks and actually discovered Qualls really might just be more quantity than quality right now, even for the Rays.

Over his last 10 appearances, Quall has seen his ERA bounce from a 7.43 ERA to a 8.20 ERA, coming extremely close to his pre-D-back days. And these stats come from his last 10 Rays appearances, and could be a clue the Rays might have gotten a bit duped by acquiring Qualls. He has pitched 11.2 innings in his last 10 appearances, which include giving up a total of 13 hits and 8 runs while blowing 2 save opportunities. But that is not the most alarming stat. The fact Qualls has given up 6 walks against 7 strikeouts tends to point to Qualls might not be a better addition to the Rays Bullpen than a guy from Triple-A right now.

 

And that is huge when you are in the stretch run trying to catch back up to the New York Yankees and solidify your Bullpen with a playoff mentality. Even more disheartening for Rays fans might be the pure fact he has been a disaster against left-handed hitters since his trade to the Rays. Qualls has thrown 4.1 innings against lefties this year and has blown his 2 save against them, plus bolstered a 14.54 ERA left-handers and a .421 opponents batting average. An accent mark on the whole scenario is Qualls has given up his only Home Run to a left-hander while with the Rays.


But even with all these negative stats floating over Qualls head, he does have a few positives to build on here. Against right-handers, Qualls has posted an impressive 1.23 ERA ( .208 average) with 6 strikeouts. Tends to make you think he will be only posted against right-handed batters the rest of the way through the season. Another sign that Qualls might be finally adjusting back to his old self is the fact Qualls posted a 5.06 ERA for the month of August, his best month of the 2010 Major League Baseball season.

Even with that little ray of sunshine peeking out with his August stats, his September has gotten off on the really rough footing. Right now in his lone appearance of September, Qualls has given up 4 hits and 2 earned run in his only inning of work against the Orioles on Sunday. Boost another fact clear into the light that Qualls has a 13.50 ERA against Boston in his career (1.1 innings), and you get a little more for the Rays to worry about if Qualls takes the mound in this critical series in Fenway Park.

 

Could yesterdays appearance against the Orioles where Qualls entered the game with a Rays 6-5 lead, but did not register an out, and instantly surrendered 2 hits and walk. Qualls also saw two of the inherited men on base score along with two credited to him in this brief outing. Kind of shovels a level of dirt over his last 6 prior appearances, which were scoreless. His 2010 opponents batting average of .351 is the highest among Major League relievers. Adding more dirt to the pile is the fact his 7.79 combined ERA is also the highest among Major League relievers.


Hopefully we will see a reduced role with Qualls over the rest of the season, and that his name was not on the original post season roster submitted by the Rays to MLB on August 31st. Qualls might have some use between today and October 4th, but he should not be added or even considered for the post season roster. And it is a pity that the pitcher who posted a career high mark of 24 saves and led all Major League relievers with a 1.21 BB/9IP ratio and 6.43 SO/9IP ratio has seen his career this season plunder into the darkness.

But it is time Rays. It is time to admit the trade was not going to pan out and cut our losses before something drastic happens, or we lose another game at the hand of Qualls. And it is a real shame that his pitching “Quall-ity” did not bring more success for the Rays as we saw plenty of quantity runs scored against him.

Matt Garza….Mind Freak?

 
 
Lloyd Fox/Balti Sun
Bravado and baseball seem to go together like a ball and a glove. They both have their rightful place in the scheme of things, and both can immediately set the tone or environment for the way the game will be played. So it is not rare that once in a while a player, or even a pitcher will spout out their wisdom through their vocal chords instead of first proving their notions out on the field of play.

And that same instance happened recently during the lull between Batting Practice and before Rays starter Matt Garza took the mound this past Friday night against the Baltimore Orioles. Garza, who gave up an uncharacteristic 4 Home Runs during his last outing against the Orioles let off a full head of his internal steam by telling some of the beat reporters encircling the Rays clubhouse looking for a story that he wanted to shove it (the ball) down their (Orioles) throats” during his upcoming outing.

And after Garza’s comments, reporters immediately sought out a member of the Orioles for their comments. Garza ended up actually getting a pretty unusual figure in his corner for his outrageous pre-game comments. Orioles Manager Buck Showalter actually understood the broad shouldered intention and the competitive nature and passion of Garza’s statements, and basically shrugged off the statements as someone just letting off the steam of a bad prior outing with a few choice words.
Showalter told a swarm of reporter’s before Friday night game:

“There’s a lot of people that feel that way they just don’t say it publicly. So what’s the difference? A lot of them feel that way. Certainly you got a pitcher (Garza) that was a real break from the norm. Pitchers do have a memory plus guys that pitch once every fifth day like that. I think it’s something a lot of guys feel. I think the difference is from what you tell me, and what I’ve been exposed
to, he just did it publicly. It’s not bragging if you can back it up.”

Surprising to me was the way Garza seemed to surprise some players amongst the Orioles with his pre-game comments. Here was a power pitcher who came into that night’s game as one of the most frequent fastball hurlers in the American League, who suddenly went another direction and threw more breaking balls for strikes during his outing than almost any other time in his brief Major League career.

 
Elaine Thompson/AP

Could Garza have actually been trying to provide a few tasty and misguided morsels for the Orioles to digest with the Orioles hitters more than eager to get to the plate hoping that Garza threw his heat towards the plate, but instead he circumvented his usual style and went 180 degree against his norm by throwing mostly off-speed and breaking pitches. Could Garza have provided a little incentive for the Orioles to come out looking for his fastball, and instead Garza gave them a dose of not too subtle reverse psychology that worked to his advantage with flying colors.

Might Hickey and Rays Manager Joe Maddon instituted a little psychological bait and switch by circumventing Garza’s game plan by throwing a large dose of breaking stuff during that night’s outing?
I want to believe that the Rays game plan mysteriously changed after Garza’s hostile comments, but I can clearly see it being a clever diversion by the spitting Cobra and his Manager to bolster his increasing frustrations to his opposition and get the Orioles hitters to expect fastballs instead of feasting on a hard diet of breaking pitches all evening.

I also know that firmly in the back of his mind, Garza knows that his future Rays starts for the rest of the season might be uncharacteristically limited to about a 100-pitch count and may have actually been a remote cause of the whole nasty scenario. Garza has an “old school” pitchers mentality of wanting the ball every 5 days, and that might be limited in his starts with a possible playoff berth on the horizon. When Garza approached the predetermined 100-pitch mark, Rays Manager Joe Maddon immediately came out of the Rays dugout to replace Garza.

This action immediately sparked another eruption of internal frustrations that ultimately exploded within Garza as he suddenly began to walk off the pitching mound even before his Manager made it out there. You could see the dissolution in both Garza and Maddon’s faces as each passed each other on the grass section of the infield. Both showed visual signs of mutual frustrations by each other’s actions and reactions, and Maddon immediately headed straight for his emotional pitcher to resolve the issue right away upon re-entering the Visitor’s dugout.

 
Mike Fuentes/AP

This is not to say there was not a highly volatile frustration level burning within both of them at that moment because their body language as they talked near the end of the dugout showed that both were open and responsive to each others opinions but highly irritated . Either way, this will not be the last bulletin board fodder provided by a player or pitcher with the game dwindling down and the pressure firmly steeping higher and higher nightly. More and more with the game moving towards zero we will hear snippets and muses escaping from the sanctums of the clubhouses.


For some odd reason I think Garza ended up heading into the Rays clubhouse after last night’s game with a wicked smile across his face. Who knows for sure if Garza pulled a fast one on the Orioles, or if the sharp mind of Maddon changed the course of the game after Garza’s comments. Either way, it was a “W”, and the Rays became another step closer to the Rays clinching their second playoff berth. It could have been a ruse, or it could have been a preamble of emotions and pressure building up among the Rays with the goal in sight.

I loved Showalter’s last comments on Garza’s pre-game outburst:

“That stuff’s real short lived. But in today’s world I bet you somebody here has already asked our players about it. and between the internet and friend and buddies and whatever, there’s not many secrets here.”

Showalter honestly gets it.

 

Fans get to Decide the Final Rays T-Shirt Design

 


               

It is not often anymore that the Tampa Bay Rays ask the fans for any suggestions or even help when planning their promotions. So it was a delightful surprise and a great addition to my Labor Day holiday weekend when I got an email from someone within the confines of the Rays brain trust asking if I would write about the upcoming Fan Favorite T-shirt design to be given out to Rays fans before the Friday, September 24th game against the Seattle Mariners.


Even more important, it will be the last available T-shirt promotion from the Rays in their Friday Fest promotional series, and what better way to close out the seasonal series than offer a Rafael Soriano designed T-shirt. By the time the T-shirt will be given out to fans, Soriano will undoubtedly be the Rays single season saves leader needing just 3 more saves at this moment to pass long time holder Roberto Hernandez for the crown. Interesting enough, with last night’s save against Baltimore, Soriano has firmly tied for second place with 41 saves with former Rays closer Danys Baez.

It is simply just amazing the way Soriano has come onto the Rays this year and solidified the closer’s role and boosted the confidence of everyone, even the fans when the ninth inning pops up. So it is more than fitting that we have a Fan ballot that will decide which of the three designs Rays fans truly think optimizes the player who has shut the door on opponents with authority this season. As usual, the first 10,000 Rays fans will be presented with the collectible T-shirts when they enter the stadium.

All three designs center around the common thread of the message “Dominate Late”, which is simply the way Soriano has taken to task his role against the American League this season. And being one of the top contenders for the American League Cy Young Award with his performance shows just how effective he has been in his role this season. All three designs also have another common element in that Soriano in all three will be striking his post-game pose of saluting to the heavens after the last out of the game.

But from there, all three have their own distinctive differences. So let’s take a moment to look at all three designs, then I will conclude with a link for the Fan Ballot and we can all cast our votes for our favorite designs.

               
  
The first example of T-shirt to be voted on has a distinctive blue and white image of Soriano as he give thanks to the heavens, then is punctuated by the word “Dominate” in what looks like a classic Old Style Serif, with the word “Late” set maybe in a Latin-inspired Norte Dame Roman Blackletter font. Striking also in this design is the way they included Soriano’s name within the black border under the word “Late” to accent the word.

What is also striking about this design is the way the artist made sure that all the prevalent material of Soriano’s signature and his jersey number were added below the border to pull your eyes towards that section of the T-shirt. Also interesting is the “TB” logo nestled right below his right knee. Another fine touch is the positioning of the Lion symbol upon the left side of Soriano’s jersey number. This is the second time this season a symbolic animal has been positioned upon a Rays giveaway T-shirt. Most might remember the regal Griffin design earlier this year on the James Shields inspired T-shirt.
           
              
  
The second design is basically just a normal back and white silhouette set upon a white T-shirt with the lettering being set in a simple but commanding Cleartype font, maybe in the a Cambria or Candara styling. What is simply unique about this rendition is the way the lettering of the phrase “Dominate Late” is just a bit off tilt in both words and give that forceful punch to the T-shirt. Another nice addition to the T-shirt is Soriano’s name running up the right side of his image on the T-shirt with his first name in a normal font, with his last name set in bold lettering.

This time the rambling “TB” logo makes it appearance up above the “T” in the word “Dominate” up near the clavicle region of the T-shirt. It is punctuated here with the same signature Soriano puts on baseballs underneath the “E” in “Late” complete with his jersey number in his own handwriting this time. It has a more “homemade” feel to it than the first design, and in some ways seems a bit less powerful. But the black and white design is a different approach than the Rays have done on most of their T-shirts this season where they have used color and graphic to make the words explode off the white T-shirts.

                

The third design seems to be more in the line of what the Rays have offered this season to their fans during their Friday Fest promotions. It is again accented by three dominant colors in the design, with a Carolina Blue accent basically whitewashing the image of Soriano and making it pop out a bit from the white fabric. Again we have the same pose by Soriano on the one side of the T-shirt with the “Dominate Late” this time all set in the same font style and consistent on the middle of the T-shirt.


In this design, the “TB” logo makes its appearance upon the center spot on the T-shirt just under the written phrase. What is so remarkable on this design option of the two corresponding lion figures facing outward flanking Soriano’s jersey number “29” that is topped by a regal crown all also set in a Carolina Blue color that pronounces boldly off the T-shirt. The last feature is another baseball style signature of Soriano’s set right below the Carolina Blue regal insignia based in a darker blue color to accent it on the white T-shirt.

So there is a small accented preview of the three Fan Ballot selections that will be online right here for everyone to vote on before they are distributed to fans on September 24, 2010 before the Rays take on the Seattle Mariners. An added dimension to the Rays final T-shirt voting process is that you can vote up to 25 times for your favorite design, so vote often for your favorite and who knows….We all could be wearing your choice on September 24th!
 
 
 
All photos used in this posting today are provided by Raysbaseball.com

Could Jaso be a AL ROY Dark Horse?

 

 

Some of the Tampa Bay Rays fans might have known that rookie catcher John Jaso plays guitar in the Rays team garage band, but how many of you knew if he was not playing baseball, he wanted to be a Mathematics teacher? I can honestly attest to not being the best at mathematical statistics and logistical probabilities, but I sure can predict with some clarity that Jaso will be a hard person to overlook when it comes down to voting for the 2010 Rookie of the Year in the American League.


Most people have two Detroit Tigers players high on their list as the potential one and two most likely candidates in rookies Austin Jackson and Brian Boesch, and they are excellent players to consider, but usually when two players on the same team go head-to-head against each other, there can be a secondary lapse of them cancelling themselves out in the process.

Other names to consider like M’s rookie Justin Smoak, and Indian infielder Jason Donald have also has solid years for their respective clubs, but if you truly consider how far Jaso has come since the beginning of Spring Training this season, he has out performed all of them. All this chatter about a possible ROY candidacy might not have even happened if Jaso had not impressed the Rays brass enough to get them all to collectively reconsider sending him back Durham (Triple-A) this season after Kelly Shoppach came back from his knee injury.

 

To even consider sending their long time starting catcher and former All Star Dioner Navarro down to the minors instead would have been out of the question if Jaso had not made his numbers at the plate and behind it pop out at you compared to Navarro or Shoppach. I would definitely say Jaso has already beaten some amazing odds to even still be wearing his Rays uniform every night.


Even if you think Jaso is not putting up the usual romantic offensive power numbers associated with most rookies who are considered for this ROY Award, Jaso has brought a great offensive level back to the Rays catching position, and his defensive skills get better with every pitch.. We already knew that Jaso possesses a big bat, but the Rays fans were a bit shocked, but pleasantly surprised to see an almost 180 degree shift in his catching defensive skills since his first Major League call-up in September 2008.

Jaso has basically had drastic changes made to his defensive stance, throwing motion changed by the Rays this Spring. Sure Jaso is still a little rough around the edges and learning behind the plate, but his mass improvement can be directly attributed with his extra time spent with Rays Bullpen Coach and former Catching Instructor Bobby Ramos and Rays Bullpen Catcher Scott Cursi. They both worked to simplify Jaso’s approach and skills behind the plate, and they made an immediate positive change in Jaso’s career path.

 
J. Meric/Getty Images

With Jaso’s skills behind the plate beginning to shining brighter with every start, his offensive numbers have been consistent and a huge upgrade for the Rays in their quest for a second American League East title. Even though Jaso has less than 500 plate appearances ( 268 as of Sept 3), the left-hand hitting Jaso has amassed a .280 batting average with 4 HR and 42 RBI while seeing limited action, mostly against right-handed pitcher this season.

But the power aspect of this young catcher is firmly in hand when you notice in his brief plate appearances in 2010, he also has 75 hits and 15 doubles and has been extremely patient at the plate in getting 47 walks this season. Amazing still is the fact Jaso has hit out of the lead-off spot in 28 Rays contests and the first Rays catcher to every attempt the feat. According to Baseball Reference, no other rookie has ever started as many games as a catcher and batting lead-off in one season. To put it more into prospective, the previous record was 13 games by Philadelphia A’s Hall of Famer Mickey Cochrane in 1925. Jaso was also the first rookie catcher to bat lead-off since Tiger Bruce Kimm in 1976.

 
J. Meric/Getty Images

I know it doesn’t take a math wizard right now to see that Jaso has firmly planted himself as a vital cog in the Rays machine this season. To further boost up Jaso’s offensive display as a rookie, his .388 On Base Percentage leads all A L rookies, and would currently tie him with Yankee outfielder Brett Gardner for the 8th overall spot in the American League. And wouldn’t you know it, Jaso is also hitting .328 (22-67) since July 28th.


But before we finish this, let’s see where else he would rank among the A L Rookies. These numbers fully explain and demonstrate the pure fact that Jaso has been a prime ingredient in the Rays surge towards the top of their division, and has shown consistent offensive firepower for the Rays. Jaso is currently 3rd in batting average ( .280 ), 3rd in hits ( 75 ), 5th in doubles ( 15 ) 2nd in RBI ( 42 ), 2nd in runs scored (47) and the icing on the cake, Jaso leads all rookies with 47 walks against 32 strikeouts. This figure puts Jaso alone at the top in the Major Leagues as no one else with as many plate appearances has a better walk-to strikeout ration.

 
Chris O’Meara/AP

When it is all said and done, Jaso will probably get a handful of votes for the 2010 American League Rookie of the Year. But like I stated above, with two Tigers expected to be the frontrunners in the race, Jaso could be the dark horse who could come charging to the front and snatch the award. Jaso has played this season like he has been here before.


He has not let the nerves or the stress of his position even taint him in any way as he charges forward with his team towards a playoff berth. But not winning the award probably will not phase the young catcher . Jaso has a special job to do, and a possible playoff berth in the balance right now. And anyhow, I would not bet on Jaso failing, so fair he has beaten the house consistently.

The Master and the Protege`


 

I might be romancing the situation a bit here, but I hope the moment Desmond Jennings entered the Rays Clubhouse today Carl Crawford went over and welcomed the young Rays rookie to “The Show”. Over the next few weeks, its seems more than likely that Crawford will be a wealth of information and knowledge that could help Jennings make his adjustment as a Major Leaguer easier. Crawford could provide an essential network of past experiences and mishaps and provide the guidance and inspiration needed while Jennings becomes secure in his new role, and before Crawford passes the torch to the young outfielder.


It is now, with just 30 games left that I am finally bring it out in the open that Crawford might never again don a Rays cap after 2010. unless it is during an introduction speech during a blustery Summer day in Cooperstown. You have to wonder if Crawford will soon begin to reminisce and look across the Rays clubhouse and envision his own fresh experiences after being called-up in 2002.

That was when former Ray Leftfielder Greg Vaughn saddled up next to Crawford and began to be a positive force during his first taste of the Major Leagues, and Vaughn began to mentor Crawford through his new adventure, and also how to leave a positive impression with grace and dignity knowing that the franchise would be in great hands with the young rookie.


 

In those early days, Crawford used to pull on the number 8 D-Rays jersey with the zeal and enthusiasm not unlike a child waking up on Christmas morning. The whole MLB World was vibrantly new and fresh to his then young eyes, and from that first moment on July 20, 2002 we knew as Rays fans we were witnessing the first passing of the Rays outfield torch from Vaughn to Crawford. It is amazing the similarities between Crawford ( LF ) and Jennings ( RF ) as they anchor the opposite ends of the Tropicana Field outfield during Jennings MLB debut this evening.


Crawford, being one of the Rays clubhouse leaders will take the young outfielder under his wings and show him some of the paths to greatness in this game. Not because Crawford has to, but because it is in his personality to want the best for his teammates, and for the guy who will immediately be under pressure in the Spring of 2011to emulate everything that Crawford has meant to this team. Since Crawford’s own MLB debut for the Rays versus the Blue Jays in Toronto on July 20, 2002 we have seen the swift outfielder evolve and mature into the consummate professional he is today. This unique bond of each debuting against the same foe just seems perfectly fitting tonight.

It is a bit weird at times knowing in your own mind that you are seeing the on-going maturation process of one player, while maybe also saying a silent goodbye to another over the span of the next 30 games. Hopefully we will see a few flashes of brilliance with Jennings that will ease the thoughts and tears of a Crawford departure. Sure it is not written in stone yet that Crawford will definitely head to a greener turf in 2011. But the stark realization that Crawford might have finally been transported into Vaughn’s own 2002 role to show the young rookie just what it means to play at this highest level day in and day out.

 

I can not think of a better player amongst the Rays to mentor, or even coax Jennings along during the rest of this season. Crawford has traditionally been one of those stoic Rays players who do not evoke bizarre headlines or any type of tabloid tales about his whereabouts or his after game activities. His own code of secrecy bonds perfectly with his low key personality and makes him a great example of playing the game with class and respect on and off the field. Hopefully Jennings can recognize that Crawford’s genuine admiration for the game and for his team is only a fraction of the hope Crawford has that Jennings can fill the void left within this team if Crawford does decide to permanently vacate his Rays locker at the end of the 2010 post season.


Tonight we will see the infant phase of the transformation. The night for Jennings will be filled with stomach butterflies, nervous energy and anxious moments. Each ball hit to him tonight will either feel like it is suspended in slow motion towards his glove, or seem to be coming at him like a rocket. Every single pitch will seem to be magnified and each plate appearance will seem like only seconds and evaporate in front of him way too soon.

Tonight after Rays starter David Price throws his first pitch, Jennings nerves will ease a bit, the entire crowd setting of Tropicana Field will become more secure and inviting as Jennings settles into his Major League career. Tonight we will witness the beginning of one great Rays players’ career, and might also begin to realize we will also start a proverbial countdown of another Rays players’ tenure in their Rays uniform.


 

I think somewhere in the distance, Greg Vaughn will be proud of the exciting player and Rays leader Crawford has become. Hopefully the first person Jennings sees after each plate appearance and who ultimately crosses paths with him as they enter by the dugout rail will be Crawford. Eager to talk about the inning, the pitcher on the mound, or just clowning around a bit to cut the tension and nerves a bit because that is what veterans do for rookies, ease then into their next great moments. And with each small piece of knowledge and advice, hopefully a little more of the flame and the passion of playing at this level will be ignited in Jennings.

The Price is Right Tonight…FREE Price Figurine

 

 
            

Do not forget Rays fans that today is the day that the first 10,000 of us will get a FREE David Price bobblehead figurine plus the thrill of watching Price go for his 16th win tonight. So far this season the Promotions gurus of the Tampa Bay Rays have given us two special giveaways that were not on their original seasonal promotions list.

Both have been collectible figurines that have featured  a different, and prominent rising stars on the Rays roster. The first one was the horizontally challenged Evan Longoria Gold Glove figurine given out to Rays fan back on Monday. July 5th .But be aware that these figurines will only be given out only to fans wearing Rays gear . It was a great unexpected treat for Rays fans, and a great tool to help boost up their crowds.


This promotional Price figurine is a great way for all the Rays fans to celebrate Price’s great 2010 seaon which is currently at 15 wins this season. It is great that the Rays could find a corporate sponsor like Sweetbay to help all of us celebrate this great moment in Rays history with a keepsake of our own.

With Price’s currently stuck on his 15th win, he still has become the Rays single season victories leade, and has 4-5 possible starts left in the 2010 season to take this record to astronomical heights. We are all proud of Price’s maturation and development as a consistent Rays pitching weapon. You know this will not be the last time we see a Price giveaway connected with the Rays, but it is great that the Rays Promotion’s department move so quickly to give the fans a great reminder of the stellar season that Price is having in 2010.

Rays Vice President of Marketing/Community Relations Tom Hoof and Rays Senior Director of Marketing Brian Killingsworth definitely deserve a standing ovation on the timely execution and our Rays humble thanks for a offering such a great item for our Rays collections. This is just another great example of why some of the fans of the other 29 Major League Baseball fans are a bit envious of the Rays commitment to their providing special items just for their Rays faithful.

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